We need a global policy for tall buildings in Wandsworth

January 20, 2009 at 9:17 am 1 comment


Wednesday 28th January 2009
Public meeting on the Clapham Junction planning proposal

Venue: Wessex House, 1a St Johns Hill SW11 1TN (in front of Clapham Junction station)
Time: 7pm – 9pm => more information here


Author: Cyril Richert

Back in December, I wrote to Edward Lister, leader of the Wandsworth Council, about the policy of the borough for skyscrapers and high tower blocks.

—–Original Message—–
Sent: 29 December 2008 10:21
To: Lister, Edward (Cllr)
Cc: List of Cllrs
Subject: Question about the policy of Wandsworth on skyscrapers

Dear Edward Lister,

As a resident of Wandsworth borough, I would like to know the current position of the Council regarding the different projects of building skyscrapers in the Constituency. After the refusal of Putney’s project criticising the “inappropriate form, size, height, design, materials and appearance” and the acceptance of the 2 skyscrapers in the Ram Brewery development, the Council seems to present favourably (or at least without any guidelines) the project of tower blocks in Clapham Junction and Battersea.

Therefore I would like to know what the views of the Council are. Is there any specific policy, or do the residents have to mobilise/let the Council know their view on each single project? (So far, no new project – not even the Ram Brewery however accepted – has ever received majority support of the residents)

A recent comment given to a journalist of South London Press regarding Clapham Junction redevelopment said “A Wandsworth council spokesman said people’s views would be accepted until the application went to committee next spring and that the decision would be made solely on planning guidelines”. Could you please be more precise as to whether you favourably consider skyscrapers in the area?

I am looking forward to your response and thank you in advance for any information given.

Yours sincerely

Cyril Richert

I received the following (unedited) response (however I tried to add the appropriate hyper-links to documents to help readers):

From : Lister, Edward (Cllr)
To : Cyril Richert
Cc : List of Cllrs
Sent : Tuesday, 6 Jan 2009, 13h55mn 42s
Objet : FW: Question about the policy of Wandsworth on skyscrapers

Dear Mr Richert

Tall buildings in Wandsworth

Thank you for your e-mail of 29th December 2008 copied to other Councillors regarding your query as to the Council’s position on tall buildings. I feel it is more appropriate to use the term “tall buildings” rather than your suggested terminology of “skyscraper” as I consider this a more correct description of the buildings you are referring to.

The Council’s policies relating to tall buildings can be found in our various planning policy documents. The most up-to-date of these is the Wandsworth Local Development Framework Core Strategy (Proposed Submission). This document takes into account the latest guidance from central government and the Mayor of London as well as extensive consultation on earlier stages leading to this document. You can view this on the Council’s web-site at www.wandsworth.gov.uk/planning. For your reference, the relevant section dealing with tall buildings can be found on page 88. Tall buildings, that is those which significantly exceed the prevailing height of surrounding buildings, can, if well designed, create attractive landmarks underlining aspects of the borough’s character and act as a catalyst for regeneration, providing they are located in appropriate locations and acceptable in terms of design and impact on their surroundings. They can be an efficient way of using land, in line with sustainability objectives, and add definition to the borough’s skyline, although it is important that they do not harm existing important views and skylines. Tall buildings and/or small clusters of tall buildings which can demonstrate these benefits may be justified in areas well served by public transport such as the town centres, particularly Clapham Junction, Wandsworth and Putney and at Nine Elms near Vauxhall and at focal points of activity.

The primary policy dealing with tall buildings within the document is “Core Policy for Issues: Policy IS 3 – Good quality design and townscape”. Part ‘d’ of this policy specifically states that tall buildings “may be appropriate in locations which are well served by public transport, such as town centres and Nine Elms near Vauxhall, or at other defined focal points of activity, providing they can justify themselves in terms of the benefits they bring for regeneration, townscape and public realm”. The supporting text for this policy (paragraph 4.132) also sets out more detail of the Council’s view on tall buildings.

Therefore in assessing the planning application for the recent scheme in Putney at 84-88 Upper Richmond Road which was refused by the Council on the 6th November 2008, it was considered that this did not meet the test of the tall buildings policy requirement. It should be noted that this was but one of a number of reasons why that particular application was refused. However, in the very different circumstances of the redevelopment of the Ram Brewery site, it was considered, along with many other factors, that this and other policy requirements were met. Wandsworth Town Centre is a town centre well served by public transport and the proposal overall offered significant benefits in terms of regeneration, townscape and public realm.

Therefore it is not the case that the Council looks at tall buildings on a case-by-case basis although, of course, the specific circumstances and details of each individual case need to be taken into account. The relevant policy states the need to comply with a number of criteria including public transport provision, overall regeneration benefits in addition to townscape and public realm considerations. In my view, the Planning Applications Committee and the Council has been entirely consistent in its interpretation of the tall buildings policy: a policy which, I consider, is robust and allows the promotion of appropriate development.

Regarding the current planning application at Clapham Junction Station which includes tall buildings amongst other proposals for improvements to the station and retail provision in the immediate area: this will be assessed in the same robust way as the previous applications your refer to in your e-mail. Once officers have analysed the consultation responses to date, plus sought the views of different sections within the Council and other consultees outside the Council, a report will be prepared and presented to the Planning Applications Committee. This will have a recommendation based on their professional judgement of compliance with a range of our planning policies and the merits of the scheme. However, it is a recommendation and the decision rests with the elected Member’s of this committee who will look in detail at the proposals, take account of policy and any representations made and debate the matter before reaching their conclusion. On occasion Committee members challenge aspects of the officer recommendation in order to come to the definitive conclusion.

Officers are not yet in a position to indicate what their recommendation will be as more information and clarification is still required. The earliest date for the presentation of this report is likely to be the 12th March 2009 committee.

Finally, you asked for a comment made to the South London Press that any decision would be made “solely on planning guidelines”. This means that any decision will be based on the Council’s planning polices (which reflects central government and the Mayor of London guidance), the planning representations made and the planning merits of the scheme and not for any other reason. I should point out that government guidance stresses the importance of taking into account any views expressed by the public as part of the consultation process but this is not a referendum on the application.

I hope that this addresses the concerns raised in your e-mail.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Edward Lister
Leader of the Council

Let’s consider different statements of this email:

Tall buildings […] can, if well designed, create attractive landmarks underlining aspects of the borough’s character and act as a catalyst for regeneration, providing they are located in appropriate locations and acceptable in terms of design and impact on their surroundings.

First we need to agree on the definition of tall building. Are we talking about 15 storeys? 40? 50 meter high? 300 meters? The conservative Mayor was used to call them Ken’s “phallocratic towers” during his campaign. Are the same building called Boris’ “landmark for London” nowadays? The Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (Cabe), the Government’s design watchdog, issued a warning commenting a recent submission to the Wandsworth Council saying that “it was less convinced it would provide a fitting landmark for the area“.

They can be an efficient way of using land, in line with sustainability objectives, and add definition to the borough’s skyline, although it is important that they do not harm existing important views and skylines.

When you keep in mind the Battersea Power Station project, we are talking about the tallest building in not only London, but also Great Britain. And the building will still be poking over the Palace of Westminster, listed as a World Heritage Site.However, Wandsworth Council has welcomed the application.

Tall buildings and/or small clusters of tall buildings which can demonstrate these benefits may be justified in areas well served by public transport such as the town centres, particularly Clapham Junction, Wandsworth and Putney and at Nine Elms near Vauxhall and at focal points of activity.

As Jane Ellison recently said, we should “now start a local discussion about the future of our station“. Is the view of the Council for Clapham Junction to become a cluster of skyscrapers?

In my view, the Planning Applications Committee and the Council has been entirely consistent in its interpretation of the tall buildings policy: a policy which, I consider, is robust and allows the promotion of appropriate development.

Er, is it political-jargon?

The earliest date for the presentation of this report is likely to be the 12th March 2009 committee.

Ok, thanks for telling us in advance. So, we put that date in our agenda so far.

Martin Linton has called a meeting on the Battersea, Wandsworth and Putney societies on agree on the borough wide strategy on talll buildings. We welcome the initiative and support it. We look forward to see some result we will try our best to participate to the debate.

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Entry filed under: Tall building policy.

Another case of blackmail in Battersea In the Press

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